Tuesday, 21 October 2008

John Carpenter's They Live, a Truly Prescient Documentary

by Edwin Hesselthwite

“The Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.” Frank, played by Keith David in They Live.
For the last month the patient (the world economy) has lain haemorraging on the table, pissing fountains of arterial blood into the eyes of the world's economic surgeons. Over this period there have been a slow drip of media “I told you so”s from aging, suprisingly coherent, leftist ideologues. From former Labour party leader Michael Foot (now 95), to legendary historian Eric Hobsbawm (now 91) lazy editors across the land have tried to bulk-up their pages with the false dichotomy between a 20th century style left and capitalism (whatever that means). It's a little disingenous, since there is far more to intellectuals like Hobsbawm than the "more unions, and Thatcher was Satan's own personal spawn" quote the BBC's Today Programme so desperately wanted from him, but this is after all everything I hate about the BBC. Nonetheless, in this spirit of “We were right” I present you with a dumb movie I really love: John Carpenter's They Live.

If I'm honest, I'll admit that Carpenter is my favourite film-maker. I might spit out names like Roman Polanski and Alan J. Pakula to fellow film geeks, but a searing synth score by Carpenter is all that's needed to give me that Sunday night feeling. I've seen 16 of his 20-odd movies. From the brooding claustrophobic tension of The Thing to the stripped down violent purity of Assault On Precinct 13 Carpenter is arguably the most sophisticated figure to make trash SF movies, and his films bear enough of his individual stamp (he typically scripts, directs and scores them) to deserve the title Auteur.

They Live is the last great film of his prolific 1974-1988 period. Made in the immediate aftermath of the 1987 stock market crash referred to as Black Monday, this is a very blunt satire of Reaganite America. The plot, if you can call it that, is that the world economy has gone to shit (as it just had in '88) and that the Joe Sixpacks of America have been forced to become modern day Okies — itinerant hoboes hunting for construction work on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Desperate to earn a living our hero, John Nada (played by wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper), finds himself in a homeless encampment that appears to be linked to some anti-government conspiracy. Following some stock police brutality (let's get the coppers to beat up the aging, blind, black, priest... That's edgy!), Nada comes upon a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as it really is... The bankers, the politicians, the businessmen are all aliens that have taken control of the world! The rich are a parasite race! It's time to kick some ass!

Never one for subtlty Carpenter lays this films politics on heavily, with subliminal messages hiding under every billboard and television advert... Dollars bear the legend "this is your god", advertising posters say "consume and obey" or "marry and reproduce". They Live (made on a tiny $3 million budget) lacks the polish of his Halloween or The Fog, and is somewhat deprived in cast (the closest thing to a star is Keith David, who's main claim to fame was his roles in other Carpenter movies, Roddy Piper is clearly trying to channel Kurt Russell's character in such films) but Carpenter has always been a master of making thrillers on the last gas fumes in the tank. The secret to this film's success is simple: cutting in at 88 minutes, They Live doesn't give you time to question it. And across that short running time it has enough juicy moments of raw fun to keep the most jaded moviegoer entertained.

So, as the world media runs into the arms of the old left for a soundbite and an apologetic cuddle, we at Little Man, What Now? would like to say: WE KNEW! David Shayler and David Icke were right all along, those bankers, Lehman brothers, all those sons of bitches... We've been saying this since we published extracts from George Shanks's translation of the Protocols! They're lizards, alien fucking lizards!

Click here to see the film's legendary fight scene intercut with South Park's hommage to it.

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